"In the wilderness if you can't avoid an attack, it becomes kill or be killed ..."
Boss and Abbey hiked hard through the thick forest all the next day. The woodsman was determination to put miles and many trees between them and the Sioux. It was almost dark when they made their camp near a wide, free flowing, gravel bottom stream. They performed their camp chores in silence and shared the job of setting the snares. Abbey set the small ones for supper fare and Boss set out The Boys for protection. Afterward, for the first time all day, they settled back and relaxed beneath a lean-to of
popple branches and pine boughs that Boss had hastily built while Abbey was at the creek bathing and fetching water for camp.
"Now that we've made it this far, well into bear country, I have a
confession to make," Boss said. "I do have to admit that, in the beginning, on that first day when we met at the trading post, and that night when you did all that throwing up, I didn't think you'd make it this far, not even close, of course, that's all besides the point now, I guess. Anyway, I got just one word for you from here on out ... bears! I can't say it enough or be more serious. Grizzle bears are a fact of life in these herewoods. And there ain't no hidin' from them either. A grizzle bear can smell a dead deer for more than 5 miles and a live man from at least a mile. When we walked into his woods earlier today, he knew it."
The crickets chirped from the nearby dark forest. Coyotes yipped from river ridges and little brown bats fluttered above the campfire scooping moths and mosquitoes. Boss loved it all, he felt there was nothing like a night forest to make a body feel close to nature and closer still to the Creator. To him, this wasn't just living, it was life!
"The natives hold the bear in high regard," Boss continued as he stirred the fire with a short popple stick before throwing it into the flames. It sent a shower of sparks leaping up into the blackness above the yellow dome of campfire light. Abbey sat quietly opposite the flames not sure if she wanted to listen tonight. "The grizzle bear is like a warrior. It is said the
bear's tracks, like a warrior's, does not ever fade away, they are absorbed down into Mother, the earth. They are chosen!"
A chill raced through Abbey's body. A mixture of terror and excitement gripped her, she definitely didn't want to hear anymore, this was the big bad bear story she hoped was only that, a story. But then, she knew she had to listen. To learn about her new home, her new life. Boss obliged. It would be a long night with little sleep. Conversation was Abbey's only shield against the fear and, at least for the time being, it blocked out the image
of a monster bear lunging out of the darkness for her.
The woodsman explained that bears, in many ways were, indeed, like people,physical traits included. He said, "bears are not all alike, and just like with people some bears are skittish and shy, some curious or nervous, but, and he was convinced of this, some bears are just plain ... mean! Like ashe-bear with cubs ... "
Boss said the first thing to do if they stumble across a grizzly cub is climb a tree. The nearest tree. Momma bear will not be far away. Or, if they came across an adult grizzly and it pounds the ground or snaps its jaws or twists its head, or stands up on its hind legs like a man, they should climb a tree. Those are all warnings, all threats. She was always to be on the look out for possible climbing trees.
"I know that doesn't sound like much, to climb a tree, but you'd do well to remember it when the time comes. When, maybe, the bear leaps out of nowhere and panic grips you so tight you can't breath, you can't think," Boss said.
"Believe me Woman, you just react. I've been there, and I've spent many a night sittin' in a tree waitin' for a big old griz to get bored and go look for a meal somewhere else."
He explained how grizzlies are territorial. The boundaries are governed by the bear's stomach and always surrounded a food source. It could be a good fishin' spot in a stream or river, or a large berry patch, or a cache of meat, or even an abundance of grass and roots. Boss also explained that territories overlap which meant dealing with many bears, and many personalities.
"We are intruders here," Boss said as he tossed more sticks onto the fire.
"Up north, it's different. There aren't as many grizzlies, and up there you'll have cabin walls to hide behind and a big old backwoods dog, with a bark loud enough to knock over your outhouse, to serve as lookout and guard. But out here, in the open forest, we must tread light and stay aware, alert."
Then Boss stared through the dancing campfire flames and looked directly into Abbey's eyes. His expression was serious.
"But make no mistake," Boss said. "In the wilderness if you can't avoid an attack, it becomes kill or be killed and you best realize that right now. The bear won't stop until its belly is full or it's dead!"
This revelation served to send another cold chill of terror through Abbey. It was meant to, she caught her breath.
"A wolf, or a dog, even a man," Boss continued, "will sometimes back off an attack before the opponent is finished. Don't figure a griz to be so foolish."
Boss explained that the she-bear with two year old cubs was the most dangerous of all. Because, although the cubs still acted mischievous and curious like youngsters, they were as large and strong as a full grown bear. As hungry, too. It would be three against one. On the other hand a mean old single male bear was a close second on the danger list.
"I seen one big old boy who must have been pushin' near a thousand pounds of pure muscle and meanness, teeth and claws." Boss said leaning toward Abbey and the crackling fire. "The hair on its back was tipped with silver. He wore a hump on his shoulders bigger than its head. I watched him kill and eat two young cubs down by the river one day. When the younger she-bear roared into him to protect her cubs that big silver tip slapped her face raw and bloody with a single swipe of his paw, then he clamped on her throat with his big jaws and didn't let go until his mouth filled with her blood. The natives call him MaKwa. He still lives along these streams here somewhere."
Boss smiled with self satisfaction when Abbey got up from her place across the fire and moved over to sit close to him. She held a red wool blanket around her shoulders like a shawl. The campfire flames glowed red off her face. She moved closer still to Boss and snuggled up under his strong right arm. His smile grew all the wider. There was nothing like a good killer bear story to stir the urge to cuddle. The night air was crisp and filled with hoots and howls, and later cries of ecstasy echoed from the camp with a smoldering fire. It was a most active time in the woods. The unattended fire died to glowing embers. An enemy that lurked somewhere out there in the blackness was forgotten for the time. It
was well after midnight before Boss and Abbey finally fell off into a deep, satisfying sleep.
Boss woke as dawn's first light twinkled life into another day. The woods were no longer dark but gray and hazy. He rose from their bedroll of blankets and dressed quickly. He pulled his buckskin leggings on, and his warm, custom fit Chippewa moccasins, a necklace of bear claws fell across the open neckline of his wool shirt and rubbed against his bare chest. It brought upon him a feeling of strength, of a deep pride that said "warrior."
He snatched up his fishing spear in one hand and rifle in the other and headed down a crude trail toward the stream. He was careful not to step in the snare he'd set on the path the night before. A snare was set specifically for larger animals. If a passing bear had strayed up this trail from the creek and close to camp, hopefully, the snare would have caught it or at least given Boss some warning. The forest crowded close, touching Boss's shoulders on both sides of the path. Dew was cold and heavy on the grass and underbrush along the trail. He could just barely see wispy white clouds of his breath in the cool morning air. The forest beyond still lay cloaked in shadows. He was always aware
this was bear country, though never afraid.
Boss heard the stream rushing, rolling, splashing over and around large black and gray rocks and boulders; he smelled the sweet cold water before he actually saw it. The sound of a gurgling stream was the sound of life in the big woods and music to his ears in spite of the danger that might be present. He approached the stream with great stealth. His muscles were coiled, his reflexes tight. The last thing Boss wanted to do was pop over the high creek bank and come face to face with a fishing grizzly. The five
to six foot creek banks were carved from years of spring run off when torrents of rushing water ate away the soft sandy sides.
At this time of
year the stream was not only well within its banks but, in many places, it
even had a short sand and gravel beach between the high banks and creek on
Boss crept through the underbrush of young popple trees to the edge of the
bank. The damp musty smell of the forest floor, wet sand, decaying leaves,
and pine needles filled his nostrils with a pungent, earthy fragrance. It is
the smell of life, the bosom of creation.
Boss froze in his spot when he noticed the large mound near mid-stream. Was
it a hulking griz already at the fishing hole? He would keep a close watch
... but a few minutes later, the woodsman relaxed when he realized in the
growing daylight the object in the river wasn't a bear, just a large river
boulder. Nonetheless he waited, hidden in the underbrush several minutes
more, until dawn spread the morning light across the stream and through all
but the deepest of forest shadows.
The forest was quiet except for the soothing sound of the babbling stream
and a concerto of singing birds. The sounds of the morning forest are sounds
of peace and solitude and are one of the unexplainable reasons why Boss
called the big woods home. But all was quiet on the bear front.
Not even a breath of a breeze whispered in the pine tops above. Finally,
Boss moved from his hiding place into the daylight and dropped down the bank
side. He leaned his rifle against the bank and stood flat-footed on the
narrow beach, the forest crowding close on both banks. He stooped to inspect
the sand of the beach for several yards along the water course. There were
the hoof prints of deer and the hand prints of a raccoon ... but no sign of
a bear, no large menacing paw prints. He was relieved at first, but then,
when he came to think about it, he hadn't seen any bears or bear sign at
all. For just a fleeting second, he wondered where all the bears had gone?
Were they killed off, or scared off? It was an interesting question. But
then his thoughts changed from an interesting question to a menacing one.
What could possibly be big enough or mean enough to scare away grizzly
Boss walked slowly upstream looking for sign as he searched for a pool that
would hold fish. He was walking so close to the water's edge his right
moccasin was ankle deep in the cold, clear stream. He found sign of otters.
For this large, weasel-like critter with a long thick tail was abundant this
far back in the wilderness. Otters love the streams, love to slide on their
bellies along with the rapids in the little creek. Even in winter they slide
across the ice and play in the fast moving stream water that doesn't freeze.
They swim under the ice in the deep pools and catch fish. These small fury
creators have such great fun and though Boss didn't see the otter this time
he heard the chirps and whistles of play in the foggy backwater further
There were several 2x2 webbed foot prints of beavers, several large sets
probably indicting a breeding pair. He watched a spotted sandpiper picking
its way through the shallows on long stick-like legs. Its summer plumage of
black spots was visible but the dull greenish brown wings and black and
white belly of winter would begin to appear about the same time the leaves
changed colors. This bird was only seven inches tall, about the body size of
a robin, with a long bill and a white mask around its eyes. It moved along
the shore bobbing its head up and down as it searched for minnows, frogs,
and insect larva.
Boss heard a splash behind him and he wheeled around with a start expecting
to see a grizzly sneaking up on him. But his worry melted when he spotted a
kingfisher fly up from the creek surface with a rather large minnow held
firmly in its spear-like bill. Landing on a nearby perch, it was twice the
size of the sandpiper with a crown or crest of blue-gray feathers. This
particular bird was a male with a blue-gray breast band. Boss watched it
turn the fish around in its bill and swallowed it head first, though the
fish's tail stuck out the side of the bird's bill. The bird voiced a loud
rattle sound as Boss walked away but it did not move from its high perch in
a dead popple tree.
For such a quiet, peaceful place on the surface there was, indeed, a lot of
activity along this little stream. The wilderness, the raw survival of it
all, enthralled the woodsman. For the moment he forgot about his purpose on
this adventure, forgot about the always present danger that lurked in this
woods, too. Forgot about the ... bears!
Abbey's terrified screams snapped the woodsman from his stream side
daydream. The blood curdling shrieks echoed through the woods and stabbed
deep into his consciousness. Boss knew immediately this was a scream for
help ... for life!
Boss ran back along the beach. A thousand panicked thoughts filled his mind.
How? What? Had the bears gotten her? Would he lose her, this woman who'd so
recently come into his life?
Boss stopped short in his tracks at the creek edge and snatched up his
rifle. He stood on the beach below the creek bank when he saw Abbey bolt
through the thick forest running toward the creek along the trail Boss had
used earlier. Then he saw, just a few strides behind her, an enormous
grizzly bear. Boss watched as the silver tipped brown hulk loomed ever and
ever larger behind the terrified woman. Boss watched the bear come closer
and closer. Abbey was running as fast as she could, her eyes were wide open,
a long shrill of screams seemed torn from her throat! She was running but
not getting away. Boss watched in horror as the huge, wide body of the bear
got so close to the woman its body blocked out the forest background behind.
Its long woofing roars mixed with the woman's terrified screams and filled
the forest. Boss was frozen for want of what to do. He couldn't shot, Abbey
was in the way. He raised his rifle anyway.
From goodness and solitude one second, to horror and death in the next, in
fact it all happened in the blink of an eye. Boss watched the monster come
closer to her, until it could reach out and ...
That's when Abbey fell. Boss' heart stopped when he watched her stumble and
go down flat out on her face in front of the monster. The griz was on her in
an instant. She didn't stand a chance ...
But then, to the woodsman's surprise, the bear did not stop to bite or tear
at the woman sprawled on the ground in front of it. Instead, it trampled
over Abbey, a large, heavy paw pushed her face hard into the damp earth. A
large gash opened on her shoulder as a long curved claws from a rear paw
gouged deep into her skin when the bear passed over her.
The bear didn't hesitate an instant with the woman. It had spotted Boss
moving along the gravel and sand beach below the bank at the creek edge. It
charged straight for the woodsman. Straight for the creature who dared
trespass in its fishing hole. Boss stood still and aimed down the long steel
barrel of his rifle. It was all he could do. There was no place to hide and
no time to climb. No escape. He couldn't outrun the bear even if he were on
a horse. The creek was not wild or deep enough, to provide escape or
shelter. The charging bear roared again.
The grizzly had built up a head of steam as it moved toward the creek. It
roared again as it charged down the trail toward Boss. Madness filled its
eyes and malice echoed in its roar. Boss stood frozen at the creek edge. He
only had one shot, it had to count. The bear moved closer. Boss caught his
breath. The monster smashed through the brush snapping off saplings as he
Then Boss heard the snap of the breaking trip wire on his snare. He saw the
two broken halves of the lace fly up over the bear. The thick hemp rope
tightened around its left back leg. No bear could break that rope Boss knew.
But the rope did not stop the runaway bear. When the jackpine top, where the
other end of the rope was attached, sprung up it cracked off under the
strength and weight of the bear and snapped off to crash to the ground. The
bear just dragged the tree top behind it and barely broke stride through it
all. Boss stayed ready and with just a few seconds left, and the bear only a
few strides away from the edge of the creek bank, and looming high above the
woodsman ... Boss fired the rifle.
Abbey raised her bloodied and muddied head just in time to see the bear make
its final lunge toward Boss. Another scream of fear was ripped from her
throat to again fill the creek valley with her terror.
The gun shot rolled like thunder through the woods. A cloud of smoke belched
from the Hawken and billowed before the woodsman's face. Boss couldn't see
anything for the smoke and took a step back. The bear had disappeared behind
the smoke, too. Boss couldn't see if his shot hit the crazed bear or not.
That's when the giant grizzly head popped through the smoke. Its face was
covered with blood as it bellowed a death roar and leaped off the higher
creek bank toward Boss. It was already dead, but its momentum surged the
body ahead to bowl Boss over onto his back on the beach with the bear
falling heavily atop him.
Boss hit the gravel beach hard and was pinned helplessly beneath the heavy
carcass. He could barely breathe as his body lay covered by the now dead
It was a smothering weight and one Boss knew he had to get out from under
quickly. If it hadn't been for a rotten log laying on the beach near him,
Boss could very well have suffocated in just a few minutes. It would be the
ultimate irony, "killed by the bear that I already killed," he muttered to
himself. But the log held the bear off just enough to give Boss a small
opening beneath the bear's right front leg that he could breath and, just
barely, see out.
Abbey appeared a second later. She cried out as she called for Boss. Blood
trickled from her nose and ran down her arm, it soaked through her shirt and
dripped from her finger tips. The gash laid her shoulder wide open. Her face
was pale, flour sack white in fact, as she was sure the bear had ...
"Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!" Abbey screamed as she jumped off the bank
onto the beach. At first, she was not at all positive the bear wouldn't jump
up and get her. But she was so worried about the woodsman she couldn't stop
or turn back. When the beast didn't move she dropped to her hands and knees
and looked down at Boss.
When Abbey saw the woodsman was still alive the sparkle of joy flashed in
her eyes, and a long sigh lifted her heart and her spirits. She was consumed
with relief and moved closer to hear the woodsman's instructions. Though she
felt helpless and all she wanted to do was kiss and hold him, she knew she
had to compose herself. She leaned close to hear him, to help him.
"Well, what are you waitin' for," Boss said, "I killed him. You clean him."
Boss busted out with laughter and watched the color return to Abbey's face,
she too, couldn't help but snicker. The tension had been broken. The terrors
"But before you do that or anything else," Boss said. "Get me outa' here."
Abbey jumped to her feet and retrieved an old tree limb on the ground
nearby. She would use it to pry the bear's body up far enough for Boss to
slip out. She placed one end of the pry stick beneath the bear and tried to
lift the carcass. But the dead bear was heavier than she'd anticipated. Boss
could only move out a few inches on the first bite with her pry branch. And
only the bottom half of his body.
Abbey moved her branch farther down along the bear's body and took another
bite with her stick under the bear's lower extremities and moved the beast
off the woodsman's legs. As Boss felt the weight lessen he struggled with
his legs to get free. While successful with this, the twisting of his body
caused his head to move farther back under the bear's body as his legs moved
out from under. So he followed his feet, moved down beneath the bear's heavy
body, and figured he'd just crawl out feet first. All Abbey had to do was
Then, to Abbey's great surprise, the pry stick snapped. It had been rotten
on the inside. Though Boss's legs and feet were free, the hulking bear
carcass fell heavy atop his chest and face entombing him in blackness. The
weight atop of him would soon squeeze his life away. He couldn't breath. His
legs kicked wildly as his lungs burned for air. Though he tried to scream
the heavy weight did not allow him to move his head. He was pinned. Boss
feared it was the magic of the bear. How else could a beast kill its own
killer well after it was already dead?
In the mean time Abbey knew what she had to do and not do. She did not
panic. She'd had enough panic for a day. For a life time. But she knew she
had to work quickly. She needed another, a sturdier pry stick. Her eyes
searched quickly along the ground but there was nothing suitable. What would
she do? How could she save the woodsman without a stick to ... her eyes came
to rest on the popple slashings near the creek. Good sturdy young trees,
some four inches around.
Without a seconds hesitation Abbey reached down and grabbed the steel head
hatchet from Boss's hip. His legs were still kicking although without as
much vigor as just seconds before. She ran to the young trees and began
chopping. Her arms and hands came up and down fast. Large white chips flew
from the tree as the razor sharp blade took great, thick chunks of wood off
with every chop. Her arms were tired and oh so heavy, but still she chopped.
Finally, the young tree fell to her hatchet.
Quickly Abbey took up her new strong pole. It was surprisingly heavy and
took much more effort to carry the tree than she'd figured it would. It was
too long at twenty feet for her to handle and she dropped it next to the
bear carcass and quickly used seven strikes with all of her might to lop off
the top ten feet of the tree.
Then Abbey grabbed up her pole with branches still attached and stuck it
down underneath the bear carcass. This time she placed it across the fallen
log next to the bear's shoulder. Then she took her bite and laid across the
new pole. She pushed down on her end with all of her strength and all of her
As Abbey lay across the pole, her feet came off the ground and the heavy
bear carcass slowly came up off the ground to reveal a stunned and barely
conscious woodsman. But Boss was awake enough, coherent enough to know what
had happened and what he had to do to survive. He wiggled wildly and clawed
at the ground, he kicked his feet and, finally, wiggled out from under the
dead monster, a battered but victorious warrior. Abbey was the variable that
nature's fate had not counted on and Boss knew he owed her his life.
Boss was drenched with sweat and covered with long coarse, brown hairs and
much caked-on sand. He longed to sit by the fire and rest with a cup of tea
and his pipe. But he knew he couldn't. Not after seeing the ugly gash that
tricked blood from Abbey's shoulder. When she stood up he took her by the
hand, for her strength was sapped and her legs wobbly, and led her to the
creek. In spite of the crisp morning air Boss helped her lay down in the
fast moving water and gently washed out her wound. When she was able to hold
steady in the current Boss turned and dove into the deeper pool on the far
side of the stream.
Boss washed his face with his hands then swam to the current and let the
rushing water run over his head. He lay still on the gravel bottom near
Abbey until he was good and refreshed. It had been a close call all right.
But in the end, huge grizzly bear or not, he'd cheated death again. It felt
so good to be alive. As soon as he was sure Abbey's wound was good and
washed out he helped her out of the stream and up to camp.
They had to walk past the dead bear and, unconsciously, took a wide berth
around it. As soon as they walked into camp Abbey shed her wet cloths and
wrapped a blanket around her body beneath her arms to expose her injured
shoulder. She sat down on their blankets and Boss quickly changed into dry cloths then went immediately to his medicine bag near the bottom of his large backpack. In it were several long coarse, strong hairs from the tail of a horse. It was all he had for he'd used all of his store bought thread and buckskin sinew in repairs to his own clothing and forgotten to get more down at River's Bend. He'd learned the horse hair trick from the Chippewa and he kept them for emergencies just like this. He chose the smallest of barbless fish hooks he'd made himself from sewing needles, though he rarely used them to fish with as they only caught small fish and he preferred to use larger hooks or the spear method. Closing an eye he sighted in the hook eye and carefully threaded the hair.
Abbey sat quietly next to the fire. She said nothing and only winced slightly each time Boss sunk the hook into her soft skin, and then jumped a little again when pulled the hair across the wound and into her skin on the opposite side. She felt Boss pull the first stitch snugly shut. The pain was almost unbearable and she was sure she would pass out.
"That's okay, let it take you," Boss said when he looked into her rolling eyes. "This might be a whole lot easier if you were unconscious."
Abbey never did pass out and after the third stitch she stopped flinching all together. She had begun occupy her mind with other thoughts besides her pain. She pictured the huge brown bear as it first appeared and loomed up over her earlier that morning. She had just gotten out of her bedroll and pulled on her leggings and shirt and had added sticks to the fire when the bear appeared out of the trees near the edge of camp.
Abbey moaned a little for her pain again, but just slightly as Boss began a seventh stitch to the long wound. But then she remembered how the bear stood up on its hind legs and roared at her and how helpless she felt. She remembered the terror that surged through her body. She didn't know what to do, until panic took over and she forgot all about looking for a climbing tree and she just turned and ... ran!
Abbey would never forget this bear that had struck terror so deep it scared her even in spirit. She remembered how helpless she felt after realizing the bear was not only following her, but chasing, and would have her in an instant.
After that it was all a blur. She didn't even remember tripping. But she did remember falling and seeing the woodsman running in the creek ahead, coming to her aid.
Abbey remembered her terror as her head was smashed into the ground and the confusion she felt when she looked up in time to see the huge grizzly lunge toward Boss.
Abbey moaned again as Boss made his final stitch. When he was finished he put down the hook and inspected the jagged row of long eared black stitches. He placed yarrow leaves atop the stitches and then wrapped the wound in a bandage he'd had in his medicine pack. She said little after thanking him and hugging close to him. She held him tight for several minutes, then drank half of a cup of willow bark tea Boss had brewed for her. All she wanted to do was sleep in her bedroll next to the fire. It had been a terrifying, painful experience. Boss worked while Abbey slept most of the day. After the long canoe rides and the long hike the day before she needed catching up on her sleep anyway.
To skin a bear of such great size was a big job. He was lucky for the dead bear lay near the edge of a slight slope on the beach that moved down to the creek side. With Abbey's pry pole he turned the dead bear over on its back.
Boss made his initial cuts through the thick skin and along the legs. Then it was a process of pushing the carcass downhill, while he pulled up on the skin and, quite literally pulled the beast out of its skin. It was no wonder there were no other bears around. This big silver tip was cause enough for the lesser bears to stay away from this stream and out of its territory. If only he'd known Boss thought, they could have camped somewhere else.
Boss retrieved the heart, claws and teeth. The entire job took most of the day. Throughout the day he'd gone back the short distance to camp several times to check on Abbey. He saw no other bears the whole day, but that would change now that the big boy was dead and there was fresh meat about.
When Boss walked back from the stream for the night the evening shadow already shrouded camp. Boss built a fire and slowly fed sticks into the growing flames. Abbey winced as she sat bolt upright.
"That will be sore as a three day sunburn for a while yet," Boss said.
"Drink lots of this willow tea, it will help ease the pain."
Boss handed her a metal cup filled with hot tea. Then he went back to work with something in front of him. Abbey couldn't see what it was but supposed it to be his pipe or knife. It didn't really matter she supposed, a shudder quivered through her body at the sudden thought of ...
"First I want to thank you for saving my life, and then assure you that big old chargin' bear is long dead, Abbey ... " Boss said with a smile. "But then I guess he was dead when he jumped on me, too, so maybe you're right to still worry some. There's no tellin' the kind of magic that spawns from the heart of a bear."
Then the woodsman's eyes grew serious again.
"But his carcass will draw other bears, that's for sure," Boss said. "It's too late to move camp now, though. I will build the fire high tonight and keep watch; first thing at daybreak we move camp. I hope you're up to some hiking."
Abbey didn't answer the woodsman. Besides, he wasn't really asking her. It sounded more like he was informing her, and though even in her weakened state she didn't want to be pushed around by this man, she'd learned a long time ago that when dealing with a man it was best to pick her battles. Maybe letting him take over for now was best she though, for when it comes to the ways of the woods Boss didn't seem to have peers. Even big ugly ones with brown hair, long teeth, and a fear-nothing attitude. Besides, in her current sick and scared condition she was in no mood to argue. Though just the knowledge Boss was there, in spite of her pain and fear, gave her some measure of security. An owl who, who, whooted from a tree top across the stream. But after the haunting call faded the night fell silent. The black sky sparkled with stars, and there was a chilling edge to just the slightest of northwest breezes. Abbey wondered where the Black, the she-wolf was on this beautiful night. Probably doing the same thing Abbey was, enjoying the quiet. But then Abbey moved and pain shot across her shoulders. Boss noticed her distress.
"We're down wind of that carcass," Boss said as he stared through the campfire light at the woman covered up and close to the fire. "Most of the critters comin' for a free meal will come from the stream."
Boss moved around the fire and carefully unwrapped her bandage. The wound was swollen, red, and as ugly as any injury Boss had ever seen. The sutures held tight but still oozed blood and the yarrow leaves were drawing little beads of pus from the wound.
"I found fresh yarrow near the creek today," Boss said reaching into his medicine bag and pulling out several leaves. "They have much good juices this time of year. We'll change that dressing before you go back to sleep. It should feel considerable better by morning."
Abbey noticed the bear claws and teeth boiling in the fry pan on top of the campfire flames.
"The bear," Abbey said changing the subject as Boss moved back around to his spot by the fire to retrieve whatever it was he'd been working on when she first woke up. "I suppose there's not much we can salvage from it with us being on the go like this."
Boss nodded and laid down the knife in front of him.
"Yes," Boss said, a thoughtful, even concerned expression crossed his face.
"I am a long ways from home where I could store and cure much of the meat. The older the bear the better the meat. And just the same, a woodsman would never seek to desecrate brother MaKwa, the great bear."
"We save the teeth and claws," Boss continued while tossing more sticks on the fire. "You've already counted coupe and earned a necklace of claws from that big old silver back. Some men live in these woods all their lives and never earn the bear claws and teeth. You will be regarded with much honor when we meet my brothers the Ojibwa. They hold the bear in the highest of regards, the bear hunter, too. I skinned it out and stashed the skin deep in the creek swamp downstream aways. I marked it with a pile of rocks. If someone else finds it, well, they'll get themselves a mighty big hide. But hopefully, no one will find it and the cold water and mud will keep it from rotting until I can get back and cure it proper, maybe next spring or even this fall if I go elk hunting down here with Piss Eater. Why, that skin is big enough to cover a whole cabin wall. As far as all that meat goes, well ... there are lots of forest creatures who will fill their bellies several times over on that bear meat. It's all part of the circle."
Boss then picked up his knife in one hand. In the other hand he held a big chunk of red, raw meat.
"But most important, we take the bear's heart," Boss said softly. He was anxious to show her the ways of the wilderness. The crackling campfire served to accent his words. "From eating his heart we gain the bear's strength and courage. To the natives it is big medicine ... big magic."
Abbey looked down at the piece of raw, bloody meat Boss held out on the tip of his knife. She turned her head quickly and retched. She couldn't help it, she couldn't stop it. Though there was nothing in her stomach to come up, she suffered through several body-shaking dry heaves.
Boss lay the knife and the meat back down on a flat rock in front of him. Maybe he would cook it for her instead. After all, she'd gone through enough fear and pain and he was sure confusion filled her head. Boss was convinced she was silently asking herself why she was putting herself through all this; why she had come to these wild, dangerous woods in the first place. It was only natural. She didn't need to be sick, too.
Abbey finally calmed down and looked over at the woodsman. Without a word she reached over and took the piece of heart off the tip of Boss's knife.
She looked long and hard and very deep into his eyes. As sick as she was she did long for the same rock hard strength and confidence the woodsman possessed, to share this strength. From the darkness beyond she heard the snarl of bears. They had found the carcass down near the creek.
"If this wilderness is truly to be my home," Abbey said. "I'll need all the strength and courage I can get."
With that Abbey popped the raw meat into her mouth and chewed slowly. When she finished she laid her head down and smiled, for the forest silence was broken. From far, far away in the distance she heard a lonely howl ride the forest breeze. For on this night the Black, the she-wolf, her kindred spirit had been nourished, too.
By John. A Hallock